Woodland to hold public hearing about blighted property

2 months ago

WOODLAND, Maine – Woodland Select Board members gave the town’s code enforcement officer permission to further inspect and hold a public hearing about a property that is allegedly not up to code.

Code Enforcement Officer Bruce Hussey told the board at Tuesday’s meeting that he received a written complaint about a mobile home at 340 Fowler Road from a neighbor.

Based on exterior photos, Hussey said he believes that the residents are getting electricity only through an extension cord that hooks onto a neighboring home. It also appears that the mobile home has no running water, plumbing or a septic system, Hussey said.

The town does not have an ordinance governing mobile homes and trailers but homeowners still need to follow state codes, Hussey noted.

Woodland Planning Board member Ted St. Pierre said that citizens are allowed to install an outhouse if they do not have electricity, so long as they obtain state approval.

The Select Board voted 2-to-1 in favor of allowing Hussey to send a notice of violation to the property owners and schedule a public hearing, during which board members could declare the property dangerous or a nuisance, per state statute. The board would then negotiate with the property owners a timeline to remedy the issues.

Select Board member Thomas Drew voted against the motion and urged caution because there are other blighted properties in town.

“Until the town has a policy [governing trailer homes], I’d be willing to hire a lawyer for whoever is living there,” Drew said. “I just want to make sure we’re not penalizing people for being poor.”

Board member Kathy Ouellette said that the town has not received formal written complaints about other properties.

Hussey also said that neighbors have complained about garbage piled up outside the house at 342 Fowler Road. Hussey has been in contact with relatives who are attempting to purchase the property, which was part of the estate of a family member who has died.

“The guy living there, his father passed away,” Hussey said. “He said he wants to buy the property and clean it up.”

In other business, the Select Board voted 2-to-1 to hire St. Peter Construction of Caribou to install a new septic system for a resident as part of a state Small Community Grant.

Maine’s Small Community Grant Program allows residents whose federal taxable income is less than $40,000 to qualify for septic system replacement. Typically, grants can pay for 25 to 100 percent of the project, depending on the property owner’s income.

Municipalities must apply for a grant on behalf of the property owner. Woodland’s grant will cover all of the projected $17,000 project cost, Hussey said.

St. Peter Construction submitted the lowest bid of $12,785, while Presque Isle-based J & S Construction submitted a $18,005 bid.

Drew motioned to accept the J & S bid but that motion failed after no other board members seconded it. Drew said he wanted to ensure the town had enough funds if the project cost and scope becomes greater.

Board Chairperson Matt Cole made a motion to accept St. Peter Construction’s bid, and Ouellette seconded.

The Select Board voted to give an office key and door code to Nate Haney of Haney’s Cleaning so he can clean the town office once a week. All office files will be locked during those times, Ouellette said.

The town has not yet hired a new treasurer and tax collector to replace Vicki Page, who was terminated earlier this year. So far the town has only received one application but the person’s holiday travel plans would interfere with running the office, said Town Clerk Bridget Coats.

A local newspaper advertisement will be published for the next two weeks, Cole said. Residents suggested that the job description be posted on the town’s website and job sites like Indeed for broader reach. 

Resident Alexandra Lord suggested that the town create a food sovereignty ordinance.

The Maine Legislature passed a law in 2017 allowing municipalities to adopt ordinances allowing food producers to sell directly to consumers without state regulations or licenses.

Several towns surrounding Woodland, including New Sweden, Westmanland and Stockholm have adopted ordinances. Stockholm is seeking members for a new food sovereignty market where private members can sell baked goods and crafts, Lord said.

Residents would need to approve creating an ordinance through a warrant article at the annual town meeting, Drew said. Woodland’s annual meeting will be held June 12.